According to a 1926 article in the Dallas Morning news “When the Shriners went to Los Angeles, he (Mansbendel) was selected to make the Ben Hur chariot which he decorated in gold leaf and carved in fitting but severe design. The chariot so pleased Louis B. Mayer, the vice-president of MGM Studio, that Mayer asked to be allowed to drive it in the huge parade. (Probably the Rose parade in Pasadena) Other producers then at work on the movie of “Ben-Hur” (silent movie) also expressed appreciation of the masterly way in which the chariot was carved and decorated.”
It is believed MGM purchased the chariot and utilized it in the filming or marketing of the movie. Ben-Hur the 1925 silent film was directed by Fred Niblo. It was a blockbuster hit for newly merged Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This was the second film based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. Costing between $4 and 6 million, Ben-Hur was the most expensive silent film ever made.
Ben-Hur was a big success as a novel, and also as a stage play. Stage productions had been running for twenty-five years. In 1922, two years after the play’s last tour, the Goldwyn company purchased the film rights to Ben-Hur. The play’s producer, Abraham Erlanger, put a heavy price on the screen rights. Erlanger was persuaded to accept a generous profit participation deal and total approval over every detail of the production.
When filming the chariot scene, the drivers were careful and slow, which disappointed Mayer. To make it more exciting, he offered a prize of $100 to the winner, and the resulting heated competition led to the horrendous crash that remains in the movie. Several horses were killed during the production. That and another fatal accident led to changes in rules of filming and film safety.
Shooting began in Italy in 1923, starting two years of difficulties, accidents, and eventually a move back to Hollywood. Additional recastings (including Ramón Novarro as Ben-Hur) and a change of director caused the production’s budget to skyrocket. The studio’s publicity department was shameless, advertising the film with lines like: “The Picture Every Christian Ought toSee!” Although audiences flocked to Ben-Hur after its premiere in 1925 and the picture grossed $9 million, its huge expenses and the deal with Erlanger made it a loser for MGM as they were unable to recoup its $4 million investment.